It’s summer, and between work, building a house, and two children on summer vacation, writing fiction has been tough. I’m definitely looking forward to the start of school when stricter schedules allow for more writing time. In the meantime, I thought I’d post an excerpt from a short story I have in the queue. It’s inspired by Peter Doig’s Lapeyrouse Wall, a 2004 oil on canvas currently at the Museum of Modern Art. I was drawn to this painting’s soft edges and the juxtaposition between the pink umbrella and the top of a factory in the background. And once I read about the cemetery, I fell deeper in love and knew I wanted to write a short story about the man and his connection with the wall. Enjoy!
The Wall (an excerpt)
The loneliness in my life is so great, it rides on the slow ticks of a clock.
I’ve tried to bring people into my life but blending into this world has always proved disappointing. So, I stopped. Don’t worry, I’m accustomed to my solitude, and have, at times, considered it a fine thing.
Today is Monday, and I’m on a bus pulling into the Port of Spain station in Trinidad. I will walk six blocks to my work at Republic Bank, where I will talk with people for the first time since Friday.
My walk takes me past the Lapeyrouse Cemetery, Trinidad’s city of the dead. It has streets, alleys, and residents with fixed addresses—rich, poor, Chinese, French, British, and everyone else in between.
Since the first bodies were buried in the 18th century, hundreds of corpses have been exhumed by robbers. A wall was erected around the cemetery to keep the vandals out. But, when I look at the wall, with its crumbling layers of cement and faded paint, I wonder if it also keeps the spirits in.
The wall is nearly as tall as I am. I can see over it only when I stand on my toes. I peek inside and hear the clapping and chanting of the Shouters in one direction and the murmur of the Catholics working at their beads in the other. I also smell flowers mixed with incense and firecracker smoke, which means the Chinese are here, too.
I relax back onto my feet and continue along the block. I’ve walked several feet when a woman’s voice whispers in my ear, and I swear I feel her lips brush my lobe.
“Every time ah pass, you look at me. Every time ah pass, you look at me.”
I spin around, my skin tingling, my hand landing on my chest.
“Ah gonna tell mah mama do’ sen me down dey. You better tell yo’ mama do’ sen yo’ down here. Every time ah pass, you smile at me. Every time ah pass, you smile at me.”
As she sings, purple, green, and blue notes swirl around me, wispy things like butterflies. Between them, I weave my loneliness, until it is tied in knots and I am no longer standing alone.